Manny Pacquiao's move up from super featherweight coincided with his ascension to another career peak Saturday night.
Fans at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas and a HBO Pay-Per-View audience saw Pacquiao display his sensational hand speed, skillful movement and punishing power to dethrone David Diaz for the WBC lightweight title.
Looking just as fast and strong as always in his first fight at 135 pounds, Pacquiao piled up points with pinpoint punching precision to stop Diaz at 2:24 of the ninth round and become the first fighter from the Phillipines to win world titles in four different weight classes.
Against Diaz, who was defending for the first time since beating Mexican legend Erik Morales in his first title defense, Pacquiao, a former world champion at flyweight (112), featherweight (122) and super featherweight (130), proved to be in a class of his own.
"Speed and power is what we trained for in this fight,'' said Pacquiao, who lifted his record to 47-7-2 with his 36th KO. "I'm very comfortable at 135 pounds. I feel strong."
Pacquiao's speed and ability to land punches from all angles overwhelmed his Chicago-bred opponent. He followed a right jab with a vicious left hook that sent Diaz to the canvas for the only time in the fight. Referee Vic Drakulich saw no reason to count, halting the bout as Diaz laid face down.
"I think Diaz is toughest opponent I've had,'' Pacquiao said. "I was very surprised that he caught a lot of punches and didn't get knocked down in the early rounds."
Pacquiao is a southpaw and normally relies on the left hand for his power shots. But he was able to use his right hand for punishment more effectively than usual against the southpaw Diaz.
"It's hard to fight a southpaw, that's why I wasn't very confident about this fight,'' Pacquiao said. "I was lucky tonight to win by knockout."
With knots on his face and cuts over his right eye and on the bridge of his nose, Diaz looked like he had run into a buzzsaw, which he said wasn't far from the truth.
"He was just too (bleeping) fast," said the former 1996 U.S. Olympian whose record fell to 34-2-1, 17 KOs. "I've seen him on tape, but I said I could deal with that speed. The power was what I was concerned about. But he was too (bleeping) fast. I thought Freddie (Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach) was in there hitting me too."
Diaz showed a solid defense and tried to be aggressive but he was just too slow to get off and establish any momentum. The cuts didn't help. Diaz said seeing his own blood for most of the fight didn't bother him, but he joked that it caused him to wonder.
"I thought he had a knife in there with him,'' he said. "I thought he cut me with a blade. But he was just fast. I could deal with his power. I got beat by his speed."
With Floyd Mayweather Jr. having recently retired, Pacquiao moved to the top of the list as arguably the sport's No. 1 pound-for-pound champion. He's also the fighter with whom other fighters most want to battle for a big payday now that Oscar De La Hoya is winding down his career.
Pacquiao, who has a victory and a draw against Juan Manuel Marquez, said he'll leave his next opponent up to his promoter, Top Rank's Bob Arum, and expects to fight again in November.
Whomever he fights, Pacquiao has gained another believer in Diaz, who vowed he'll be back.
"I'm not going to say he isn't (the sports top champion). He beat me,'' Diaz said. "My hats off to him. His speed was just too much for me. But I went in there and gave it my all. To go in there (nine rounds) with a guy like Manny Pacquiao, I think I'm doing pretty good."
In two title bouts on Diaz-Pacquiao undercard, Los Angeles' native Steven Luevano (35-1-1, 15 KOs) retained the WBO featherweight championship by fighting to a 12-round draw against Puerto Rico's Mario Santiago (19-1-1, 14 KOs), and Dominican native Francisco Lorenzo (33-4, 14 KOs) escaped with a controversial victory on a fourth-round disqualification of Mexico's Humberto Soto (44-7-2, 28 KOs) for the WBC interim super featherweight title. Soto's dominating performance left Soto bloodied and battered but went all for naught after referee Joe Cortez ruled he hit Lorenzo in the back of the head while he was down.
In a scheduled 10-round heavyweight non-title bout, New York's Monte Barrett (34-6) posted his 20th knockout in quick fashion, using a right hand to send Las Vegas' Ty Fields (40-2) reeling and stopping him at :57 seconds of the first round.
HBO PPV - Jun. 28, 2008